Question: What is your background (place of birth, place of residence, education, profession)?
Answer: I am English by birth and Scottish by upbringing. Having grown up on the Isle of Bute on the River Clyde, I have lived in Edinburgh for the last 47 years. I have a Bachelor of Commerce degree from the University of Edinburgh and am an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Housing.
Question: Can you tell us about your organization?
I am CEO of Link Group Ltd., the parent company in a group of 8 housing associations (registered social landlords), charities and social enterprises operating throughout Scotland. Formed in 1962, we now provide services to 15,000 tenants and other customers across a wide geographical, age and tenure spectrum. Our ‘headline’ aim is to alleviate inequality .
Question: Why did you choose to work in the social housing sector?
Answer: It was the first job I’d been offered after graduating in 1975 . I knew nothing about housing (or life in general) and benefited hugely from joining the housing association (HA) ‘movement’ at a time when there were relatively few rules, little regulation and ‘governance’ was a term to be coined decades later. In a staff team of eight folk(we now have 700)I set about learning how to deal with people and trying to achieve ’win-wins’ in challenging situations.It was also the year that funding for council house-building was scrapped, heralding 35 ‘golden’ years for Has in terms of funding for social housing.
Question: What do you most hope to achieve in your position?
Answer: As I am now retiral age, I suspect future achievements may be limited in number and scope. Nevertheless, I’d like to think I have established a solid foundation for future service excellence . One of my managers once said ‘You’re a crap manager but a great leader’. Something like that would be nice in my obituary……
Question: What motivates you to push for the achievements you are looking for?
Answer: The shocking and apparently unstoppable rise in inequality throughout the world and its veering towards the ‘extreme right’. In the UK, this is evidenced by the savagery of the Westminster Government’s welfare reforms , particularly affecting young and disabled people. I was 15 years old during the ‘Summer of Love’ in 1967 and thought that we were all meant to be nice and supportive to each other. Not so….
Question: Looking back at your career so far, what societal impact can you point to that means a lot to you?
Answer: Participating in the provision of thousands of safe and secure homes for people on limited or fixed incomes and who may be experiencing physical or mental challenges and needing help. Although Link has built more than 200 new homes during each of the previous 9 years (ie following the credit crunch and recession), I am more proud to have been part of a social housing ‘movement’ that has delivered the best quality housing and associated services in Scotland for the last 4 decades.
Question: Can you give an example of a moment when you realized the work you were doing made an impact on a family, community or group of people?
Answer: They have been many and frequent, but I shall suggest two. In 2010, the contractor providing our reactive maintenance services folded overnight. We decided not to let down our tenants like that ever again and within 3 years had set up a subsidiary social enterprise to provide the said service (‘Link Property’), thereby bucking the trend to outsource to demonstrate (allegedly) value for money. . It now employs 80 operatives and apprentices and when I was told that it had achieved 98% tenant satisfaction, I was ecstatic. No more so, nevertheless, when I first saw the looks on the faces of parents and children in the first cohort of refugees we have been housing – 45 families now…..
Question: What advice would you give someone who would like to grow in their career and have the same job as you some day whether it be an Executive Director or advocate. (Career advice, education advice, professional organization?)
Answer: Always treat others as you would expect to be treated, whatever level of the organisation you are at. And be ready to negotiate ie achieve ‘win-wins’. Remember when you were a child and you always wanted to win, but at the expense of your ‘friend’, sister or mother? Where did that get you….?
Question: Finally; what topics would you like to see covered by Housing Futures? What are the main issues of the day that need attention in social housing?
Answer: Looking beyond (behind?) Grenfell and into the abhorrent reasons why that happened. Social engineering, cost cutting, racism, etc, etc. And promoting and extolling social impact measurement and demonstration. For too long the commissioners and procurers of services have failed to appreciate or recognize the dangers and catastrophes created by focusing on price at the expense of quality.